"White on White" and Moon River
The Biography of Danny Williams, "Britain's Johnny Mathis"
Danny Williams is not a household name when it comes to the pop-rock music
era of the 1960s, but growing up during this time, Williams one big hit in the U.S. in 1964, "White On White"
(#9) has always been a favorite with his smooth and stylish way in singing this lovely ballad. Williams, a
native of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa, lived the better part of his life in the United Kingdom
where he is much better known and where he earned the nickname, "Britain's Johnny Mathis" for his mellifluous
high tenor voice and fluidity in singing ballads. It didn't hurt, either that he had natural good looks to go
along with his silky voice. Williams will always be remembered in the U.K. for his #1 hit that topped the
British charts during Christmas 1961 with a cover version of "Moon River", a song that has remained an easy
listening favorite there ever since.
It was also in 1961 that the Blake Edwards directed film, "Breakfast At Tiffany's", starring
Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, was a box office smash with "Moon River" the film's signature song. The song was
composed by the great Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, both of whom won an Academy Award for the song.
The American hit record of "Moon River" was by another tenor, soul singer Jerry Butler. At first, Williams was
unwilling to record the song - mainly because he did not understand the lyric reference to "my huckleberry friend".
After seeing the film, he relented and his "Moon River" outsold the instrumental version of Mancini himself and
replaced Frankie Vaughan's "Tower of Strength" at #1 on the charts in Britain at the end of December. Williams
ethereal version of the film's theme song made him a star and to this day, "Moon River" remains his most famous
Danny Williams life and musical career story are unlike most others from the decade of the
sixties. Williams grew up under apartheid in South Africa where he sang his first solo with a church choir at the
age of six. At 14, he won a talent contest and joined a touring show called Golden City Dixies that played
throughout South Africa, with additional scheduled shows in Europe including England. Williams took top honors in
the competition and started touring with the company. His first break came while in London in 1959 when his
performance caught the attention of record producer Norman Newell, the recording manager of EMI's HMV label. Newell
saw in Williams the makings of a new Johnny Mathis and signed him to a recording contract. His debut single was
"Tall A Tree", but it was not until 1961 and his fifth record, "We Will Never Be As Young As This Again", that
Williams achieved a minor hit. Prior to this hit, Williams also appeared on television's Drumbeat show. He then
scored in a big way with "Moon River". His version of the song soared to the top of the charts just two years after
he started recording. The following year in the U.S., crooner Andy Williams put out his rendition of "Moon River"
and it was forever after identified with him.
In 1962, Danny Williams continued to do well in the U.K., climbing into the Top 10 with
"Jeannie" and "Wonderful World Of The Young". Ironically, the latter was originally recorded by Andy Williams. It
was an uncongenial era for ballad singers, however and Williams had no more hits, although "White On White" reached
the U.S. Top 10 in 1964. He continued to record for HMV until 1967 and worked steadily in nightclubs. In 1968, he
had a nervous breakdown followed, two years later, by bankruptcy. Williams resumed his singing career in the early
1970s, but did not come to national attention again until 1977 when he got another taste of chart success with his
record, "Dancin' Easy". The song, based on a jingle from a well-known Martini commercial, reached the Top 30.
Recordings followed on EMI/Columbia and Piccadilly. He began recording for Prestige Records in the early '90s and
in 1994, starred in a Nat "King" Cole tribute show.
After the collapse of apartheid in 1990, Williams returned to South Africa on several occasions,
but continued to live in Britain. In 2005, EMI reissued two of his early albums, "Moon River" and "Swinging For
You", on CD. On December 6, 2005, Danny Williams died of cancer at the age of sixty three. He was married three
times and is survived by his partner Daniella, two daughters and a son, the actor Anthony Barclay.
INTERESTING FACTOIDS ON DANNY WILLIAMS:
* All of Danny Williams hit records occurred in the U.K., with the exception
of "White On White". The single peaked at #9 in the U.S., but ironically it
bombed in the U.K.
* Williams was fond of telling the story that his boyhood hero, Nat "King"
Cole, had declined to record "Moon River" because he regarded Danny's
version as unsurpassable